Suggested Searches

Lika Guhathakurta and Ryan McGranaghan Talk About Space Weather

Season 1May 25, 2018

A conversation with Lika Guhathakurta, lead program scientist for new initiatives in the Exploration Technology Directorate at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, and Ryan McGranaghan, postdoctoral researcher from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Solar flare

A conversation with Lika Guhathakurta, lead program scientist for new initiatives in the Exploration Technology Directorate at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, and Ryan McGranaghan, postdoctoral researcher from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.


Host (Abby Tabor):You’re listening to NASA in Silicon Valley, episode 92! This week we have two guests – Lika Guhathakurta and Ryan McGranaghan. They talked to us about how data science is changing heliophysics. That’s the study of our Sun and how it and other stars affect their solar systems. They explain how a new data-rich approach to this research is even extending heliophysics into a new frontier: the study of exoplanets.

Lika is the lead program scientist for new initiatives in the Exploration Technology Directorate at NASA Ames. And Ryan joins us from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory where he’s a postdoctoral researcher. But let’s get right to it and listen to Lika Guhathakurta and Ryan McGranaghan.


Host: Well, thanks, guys for joining us for this episode today. Lika, I know you’ve been on the podcast before so we had the chance to hear your back story and all about how you got to NASA and your current position. But, Ryan, you’re new to us. Could you tell us a little bit about how you got to NASA?

Ryan McGranaghan: Absolutely. Thanks for having me on today. I’ve been at NASA JPL for right at a year now. And I’ve been here in the position of a postdoc researcher studying the field of heliophysics.

Host: Physics of the Sun? Is that what you’re into?

Ryan McGranaghan:That’s right, yeah, physics of the Sun, not only our Sun, but the sun of any solar system.

Host: Okay, so star physics? Is that what that means?

Ryan McGranaghan:That’s right.

Host: Cool, okay, go on.

Ryan McGranaghan:So before this, I had been kind of bouncing around, really interested in kind of exploring all aspects of this field. So I did my graduate work, my Ph.D. at the University of Colorado in Boulder. And after that, I was really fortunate to be able to take a temporary position at Dartmouth College in a faculty role where I could create and offer a course in data assimilation and data science essentially for graduate students.

So that was a really cool experience where I got to work with a multidisciplinary group of space physicists, of engineers, applied mathematicians, statisticians, computer scientists. And it was really wonderful, and it gave me this new understanding of what I wanted to do, which was bring these different groups together to study this system.

Host: Yeah.

Ryan McGranaghan:So JPL was a really nice next step for me to come here because they have just a wonderful community of multidisciplinary people who are experts in each of these areas.

Host: Yeah, that sounds like the perfect fit. I think a lot of research is like that these days isn’t it? It’s no longer just, “I’m a physicist. I work with other physicists,” right?

Ryan McGranaghan:That’s right, yeah. Anywhere you look, people are grappling with these same problems where a new generation of problems are presented in their field, and they kind of require different levels and different areas of expertise. So I think it’s really kind of a universal thing.

Host: Right? Yeah. And also universal is data, right? There’s so much data produced these days. You guys have to figure out how to crunch those numbers and what you can learn from them, right?

Ryan McGranaghan:Right. Heliophysics is actually somewhat unique in that respect in just how broad and heterogeneous and complex the data that we have to bring together is. And it’s really interesting trying to understand how we work in the field now in bringing these different data sets together and then how new innovative techniques from this budding field of data science can be brought in to kind of revolutionize and evolve our current methods to increase discoverability.

Host: Yeah, I see. Do you agree with that, Lika?

Lika Guhathakurta: Oh, absolutely. Actually, I’m kind of curious to hear another take from Ryan. So I think I first sort of became aware of Ryan through a TED Talk –

Host: Oh, is that right?

Lika Guhathakurta: – that he gave on a program that I managed and shaped for 15 years, “Living with a Star.” What an appropriate name. And he gave really a fabulous sort of TED Talk. And I guess I do not know. I think it’s after that. Ryan, you also got the AD Fellowship, correct?

Ryan McGranaghan:That’s right, Lika. And thanks for the kind words about the talk. That was really a fun experience where I got to speak on this huge stage about the importance of space weather and these different variations going on in space that are so important to each of us every day. And people were surprisingly unaware of these effects.

Host: Yeah, tell us a little bit about those. What do you mean by space weather?

Ryan McGranaghan:Space weather is really interesting. Basically, Earth sits in this kind of – and to take one of Lika’s phrases – a cocoon created by the magnetic field of our planet.

Host: Oh, I see.

Ryan McGranaghan:And the way that the energy from the Sun interacts with that magnetic field and it creates variations in our space environment is really important to all of the technologies that we’ve become reliant on every single day. So anything from the GPS system on your phone telling you where you are or allowing you to communicate with satellites. Anything that operates in space is subject to these variations in the environment. And it’s very far-reaching. And it affects each of us every day.

And it was really interesting to kind of dive into those and bring it to kind of a very public audience.

Lika Guhathakurta:So I’ll add the far-reaching part of it. So what’s real interesting, and we say it upfront, right, heliophysics is the science of everything that’s influenced by the Sun. And that’s pretty much everything, right? And just that knowledge of that system allows us to export it to the other world. And so just like the bubble, the magnetic sphere, the cocoon that kind of protects us really from these energetic particles that are streaming out continuously and sometimes in great gusto from the Sun, but our entire solar system called the heliosphere, it’s sort of another bubble. So that’s a bubble called a heliosphere created by the Sun’s magnetic field. It’s kind of a fractal almost, right? That protects us from the galactic cosmic rays, which are again, very energetic particles that are created in a supernova explosion in other stars. And they are populating the interstellar medium.

So Sun’s magnetic sphere called the heliosphere sort of shields us from that.

Host: Wow.

Lika Guhathakurta: So this galactic cosmic race will change dramatically as the Sun kind of goes through this maximum and minimum, kind of waxes and wanes. It’s the magnetic field stream.

Host: Yeah, it has a cycle itself.

Lika Guhathakurta: Right. And the galactic cosmic rays will vary. And galactic cosmic rays are very important for space travel, for spacecraft in deep space. So kind of adding to what he’s saying, it’s not just our planet, right? Everything.

Host: Right. So let me walk through that again. So the Earth has a magnetic field that protects us from the radiation blasting of the Sun, right?

Lika Guhathakurta:Most of the time. It’s a leaky magnetic field. Yeah.

Host: Okay. And then the Sun itself has its own magnetic field –

Lika Guhathakurta: Yes.

Host: – that protects the whole solar system or part of it from cosmic rays?

Lika Guhathakurta: Yes, yes. It is the cosmic rays that are penetrating into the heliosphere. And it provides a shield for that.

Host: Cool. I never knew that. Interesting. So then that has implications for how you design spacecraft and future human space travel I guess?

Lika Guhathakurta: Deep space. If you’re traveling in deep space, whether you are a robot, whether you’re a spacecraft or where you’re a human, and for human, it’s a greater implication of course because these galactic cosmic rays are high-C ions, meaning a large atomic number. So they can penetrate tissues and can cause real damage.

Host: Extra powerful and harmful. I see. This is a little aside, but how do you define deep space? What limit is that?

Lika Guhathakurta: Good question. I’ll give you one answer, and then I’ll ask Ryan to take this. It’s not like we have boundaries in space, right? But deep space is where we are no longer protected by Earth’s magnetic field. So deep space, very much from a human perspective – so once you leave the magnetic sphere, then you are kind of exposed to everything that the Sun throws at us. If you’re on the Moon, for example, the Moon doesn’t have an atmosphere, and so that is deep space.

Host: All right.

Lika Guhathakurta: Do you want to take a crack at it, Ryan?

Ryan McGranaghan:I think that is a great explanation. I was just going to add, if we wanted to think about something topical, at the time of recording this yesterday, we had this launch of a new launch vehicle from SpaceX, this Falcon 9 Heavy. So everyone I think is aware that Elon Musk’s dream and his vision is to send humans to Mars. And I think it’s pretty telling that this is a company that is very interested in understanding space weather. Because to accomplish that, one of the things that stands in the way is understanding how humans can basically survive in this environment for this journey to and from Mars.

And Mars, differently than Earth, its magnetic field is significantly weaker. And it’s had its atmosphere stripped away because of that. So space weather can reach all the way down to the surface. And the solar energy can be really impactful on the surface of Mars. And it’s really interesting to study how the energy from the Sun creates different space weather throughout both the Earth’s environment and through deep space. So it’s very kind of far-reaching in that respect as well.

Host: Do you guys consider yourselves meteorologists for the solar system?

Lika Guhathakurta:Very cool. So, yes. In fact, I’d say that we are space meteorologists. I would say that another way of describing heliophysics, just to give you sort of the definition, is heliophysics is actually a hybrid between astrophysics and meteorology.

Host: Really?

Lika Guhathakurta: And if you think about it, these are so diverse, the two areas of science. And that’s what makes heliophysics so rich and complex and exciting because you are combining a field of meteorology with astrophysics and just anything can happen. So you’re bringing the magnetic field from the star, its interaction, and then you’re bringing meteorology. Now terrestrial meteorology does not really deal with magnetic fields, but planetary environments do. So it’s a combination. In the ionospheric region, again, it has neutral as well as magnetic fields, so it just creates a very complex, dynamic environment, which becomes very, very difficult to predict.

Host: Okay.

Ryan McGranaghan:And it’s really interesting that you should bring up meteorology because I think one of the things that’s going on in heliophysics and space with the research right now is trying to grapple with a very drastically changing data landscape. So we’re basically starting to have more and more data available to us, but those data are hard to understand together and use effectively to create new discovery for these fields. And one of the things that we’re doing is looking to the field of meteorology, who has been dealing with an explosion of data for much longer than someone in the field of heliophysics. And so they develop techniques that are a little more advanced than we have just to deal with these data problems.

And so looking at that field and how they’ve been able to effectively manage and navigate that new landscape in their context has been really helpful for us in our field. And I think one of the things that Lika and I have been trying to help the fields push towards is embracing some of these new techniques from the field of data science. So being able to effectively mine and analyze these diverse and heterogeneous and complex data sets is something that’s really on the cutting edge of heliophysics research right now.

Host: That’s so cool. That’s so interesting when an unexpected research area helps out another.

Lika Guhathakurta: Yes. In fact, the word “heliophysics” existed as a word, but it wasn’t a discipline. We created the field of heliophysics starting in 2005.

Host: Really

Lika Guhathakurta: Our division at NASA took on the name. We used to be called Sun-Earth Connection division.

Host: Sun-Earth Connection.

Lika Guhathakurta: And we took on the name heliophysics. That changed everything. That kind of energized me to go create the first textbook in heliophysics. We actually have a heliophysics textbook now. And heliophysics is just not looking at the Sun as a star; it’s looking at the Sun as a star, and it’s every nuance in terms of interaction in the interplanetary medium and every planetary environment. So it’s given rise to now comparative heliophysics. And as he’s talking, Ryan was talking about using meteorology and understand the data assimilation component, how did meteorology kind of get to where it is in terms of doing weather prediction? The other area where we are sort of benefiting in the throes of this revolution happening is where artificial intelligence, deep learning, machine learning, convolution neural network have taken us in image processing.

Host: Oh, I see.

Lika Guhathakurta: So data is sort of – in situ local data is one thing, right? You have sort of basic parameters of density, velocity, magnetic field. And then you have images that come from the Sun or it could come from our magnetosphere. We just launched recently a spacecraft called GOLD [Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk].

Host: GOLD?

Lika Guhathakurta: – which is actually observing our [unintelligible] from space. So what AI has done through Image Net, through classification of images, they’re giving us new tools of trying to figure out how can we combine our knowledge of science and AI tools to kind of do better forecasting and prediction, which then goes back into the pipeline of understanding the system better.

Host: Yeah, I see. So when you talk about heterogeneous data and how do you make two kinds of data work together, could you give us some examples of that? What are you facing in that?

Lika Guhathakurta:Heterogenous data is so – I’ll give you an example from Solar Dynamics Observatory, a big spacecraft that is looking at the Sun 24/7. It’s taking images every minute in different wavelength bands. There’s a huge amount of data that’s kind of giving the image of the corona in different temperature bands.

Host: Okay, the corona is a layer of the Sun?

Lika Guhathakurta: Yes. So corona is the outermost layer of the Sun. So the Sun that we look at, the yellow ball which kind of looks pretty constant, is really constant in that wavelength, which is the visible wavelength.

Host: Okay.

Lika Guhathakurta: If you look at the Sun in X-ray, then it’s completely different. It’s dynamic, and that’s what we are seeing, right? So by looking at images, you are actually penetrating different layers of the Sun because you are going through different temperature zones, for example.

Host: Okay. You can see inside when you look with a different kind of light?

Lika Guhathakurta: And sometimes you can go deeper inside by doing seismology of the Sun, getting sound waves from the interior. So that’s one kind of data, for example, heavy on images. And in order to understand them, predict when you might get a solar storm requires understanding this complex magnetic field region, but we’re taking images and trying to kind of get a handle on that.

Now, if you take these and sort of propagate it down, very close to Earth, but not quite there, sort of a million miles away from Earth, it’s an L1 point, Lagrange point one, where Earth and Sun’s gravity sort of neutralize each other. We have space gravity. There we are actually locally measuring the environment of the spacecraft. That’s where we can actually measure whatever the Sun produced and then we propagated 93 million miles. That’s the distance between Sun and Earth. And what is left? What are we measuring? That data is just sensor data, not images.

Host: Okay, not images, yeah.

Lika Guhathakurta: So completely different. You can see sort of how we kind of compare it. One is like astrophysics, studying a star. And now we are actually measuring the impact of that and then how it interacts with our geospace environment, how it interacts with our magnetosphere, which is this imaginary magnetic field line that comes from Earth. And then we go down to the next layer called the ionosphere, which is where neutral particles get energized by X-ray and causes all these various space weather effects that Ryan was talking about earlier, disruption of communication navigation, disruption of signal for GPS. Sometimes the fluctuation can create ground-induced current that can cause harm to our transformers for power grid. It kind of just goes on.

Host: Yeah. I’ve heard space weather events could be really destructive, all these things we depend on critically every day, right?

Lika Guhathakurta: Absolutely. We are realizing this more and more, right? A hundred years ago, people ask, “Is this a new thing Sun is doing?” No, Sun is doing what it has always done. A hundred years ago, we didn’t care about it because we were not so technologically dependent. Now if you think about our lives, we don’t go out without our cell phone. The younger generation have no clue how to navigate the map, right?

Host: Nope.

Lika Guhathakurta: So your cell phone goes off, you’re lost.

Host: Right. How did you live without this?

Lika Guhathakurta: So if you think about it, we’re just intricately connected to technology.

Host: And to the Sun.

Lika Guhathakurta: And technology is affected by the Sun.

Host: Yeah, that’s it.

Lika Guhathakurta: In one word basically.

Host: In a nutshell. That sounds like the story, yeah. So when you’re talking about the data – sorry, Ryan, were you about to speak?

Ryan McGranaghan:I was just going to add another quick example to the bring heterogenous data together. And one of the things that’s been innovative for studying the near-Earth effects, so Lika mentioned the ionosphere, which is the layer of our atmosphere that sits on top of where you would expect weather to happen – you know, terrestrial weather – and this region affects the propagation of radio signals through that regime. So GPS is affected. So while that’s a big concern, we can also use how those GPS signals are affected to study the ionosphere itself.

Host: Oh, okay. Neat.

Ryan McGranaghan:And so we can add those data, which exist everywhere because those radio signals are propagating through the atmosphere, all over the Earth. So it gives us a rich data set. And we can combine that with dedicated NASA missions such as GOLD, which Lika mentioned earlier, and a couple of other missions that have been recently launched to create better coverage of the ionosphere and start to understand these effects in a more holistic way.

Host: Yeah, that’s handy for you. All this data exists.

Lika Guhathakurta: Yeah, I’m going to jump in because this is kind of really cool. Because now we are taking other satellite data that’s not meant for us. These are not science satellite. And we are looking for ways to take those data, invert them to figure out, what does that tell us about the ionosphere? And these are some of the problems we are kind of on the verge of tackling through these NASA Frontier Development [Lab] efforts which have been going on for two years. And this is becoming really cool. NASA Ames took a lead on that, partnered with SETI. We are partnering with JPL, anybody, right? It’s basically using data as they exist, formulating a question, figuring out if the data is readily available and in a way that we can bring students to tackle this problem over an eight-week period in summer.

Host: Oh, nice.

Lika Guhathakurta: And it addresses some really important problems that are posed before us.

Host: Yeah. Do you feel like you’re able to answer questions that you never would have been able to before?

Lika Guhathakurta: That’s exactly what we are doing. So what we have done, if you think of sort of traditional ways of doing this, we will try to predict and understand one solar storm, right? If you think as scientists approach it, taking a large volume of data and applying statistics, yes, you can do it, but it takes a lot of time.

Host: Oh, I see.

Lika Guhathakurta: A lot of regular computational time. But if you can bring the rigor of machine learning, deep learning, that’s what we are trying to do because we are dealing with a massive amount of data.

Host: It sounds like it.

Lika Guhathakurta: Then you can short-circuit some of that and kind of try to extract patterns out of that and see if those patterns make sense. You can’t forget about the physics. We do understand a lot of the physics. So you’re going back and forth, kind of working with experts in AI, and you’re working with domain experts in the area to constantly work this together to come to some point where we’re able to kind of predict something that we didn’t know before or much faster than we can do.

Host: Yeah, faster.

Lika Guhathakurta:So there are many ways of looking at it.

Ryan McGranaghan:And in addition to solving these problems and answering these questions, just by looking through these different techniques, the Frontier Development Lab has helped look and develop new ways of studying heliophysics that kind of precipitate down in the community, kind of the most valuable techniques that people can use to tackle some of these issues that we’re grappling with. And I think it’s a really good way of doing that is kind of identifying these really fantastic use cases that show us how we can improve and change and evolve our current techniques. And I think it aligns very well with a group here at JPL called the Data Science Working Group who really focus on identifying use cases and letting those teach us how we can change how we work here at the lab by better embracing data science.

So I think Frontier Development Lab, and Lika, in particular, are pioneers in this way. And it’s just a really valuable program.

Host: Could you describe Frontier Development Lab? You’ve used that name a couple of times. What is that?

Lika Guhathakurta: Frontier Development Lab is kind of AI accelerator essentially, incubation program. It started a couple of years ago in partnership with SETI Institute. And so a public/private partnership is a very important component of it. We have IBM, Nvidia, Intel providing sort of computational resources in the form of GPUs. They’re providing their AI experts. And so what we do is create this summer program for eight-week period where we define. And it’s not only heliophysics, and I’ll give you some other examples. And we bring in students both in the world of AI and in the given domain where we are posing the question. We have mentors for both AI and the domain. And we really pair all these people up, house them locally, and they’re working pretty close to 10-12 hours a day tackling these problems and then, of course, being here in the Silicon Valley close to these really incredible, professional people who are there to help out, to come give talks. It has been a very enriching experience for me.

So for me, this past year was the first year when I was able to bring a couple of topics in space weather. Ryan was actually a long-distance mentor. I think he’ll be here this year. So I think heliophysics, space weather is a very important component of Frontier Development Lab. But there are other areas like planetary defense, like asteroid shape modeling where, again, JPL is kind of contributing hugely, or looking at lunar volatiles. You can think of any kind of questions basically and see if you have the data available and whether it’s a suitable question where application of AI rigor and tools would be beneficial.

Host: Right. Yeah, that’s what I was going to ask. Are those all fields of topics where you generate a ton of data and then you benefit from the AI, the machine learning?

Lika Guhathakurta: And then think about the amount of data that NASA acquires every minute.

Host: Right, constantly observing out there and back here, looking down at the Earth. There’s a lot of data out there. So this is cool. Ryan?

Ryan McGranaghan:One of the things I really love about it is a lot of what we see in the commercial space industry are entrepreneurs turned aerospace engineers and space scientists. And the Frontier Development Lab kind of flips that on its head, and it takes the domain experts and puts them in an entrepreneurial kind of environment to where they can address it in a different way, and it’s really interesting.

Host: That sounds interesting. You’re bringing together all the right people to move faster.

Lika Guhathakurta: Yes. And we were talking about interdisciplinary in the sense of heliophysics. In the world of Frontier Development Lab, it’s sort of interdisciplinary even in a broader sense. It’s sort of domains of science where you’re asking these questions because these tools are not just for any one particular science domain. So these kids are kind of side-by-side, doing their problems, learning from each other. There’s a huge benefit in that because oftentimes, we learn something in a particular discipline, and that just doesn’t get passed onto another discipline quickly enough.

Host: Right. They can also benefit from it, right? But they have to know about it.

Lika Guhathakurta:Exactly. So it’s actually here and then intellectual format; it’s a wonderful environment.

Host: Very cool. Speaking of interdisciplinary subjects, at the very beginning, I remember I was saying, “Oh, so is this star physics,” because it’s not just our Sun; it’s other stars. But then you corrected me a bit later about heliophysics really relating to the connection between a star and other planets. It’s planets that is. So what about other stars and other planets? Is it the same relationship?

Lika Guhathakurta: Yeah, so that’s exactly. You know earlier when Ryan was talking about it? So heliophysics started with the concept of understanding the Sun/Earth connection and then very quickly we have taken that and applied it to Sun/planet connection, our planet. And they are all different. Mercury’s different from Mars, from Venus, from Jupiter. You can take any one. But it’s not just planets as I was saying.

Host: Right.

Lika Guhathakurta: It’s everything in the solar system. It’s Titan, it’s Moon, everything is interacting with the Sun, the solar wind. So now we have a very rich field called comparative heliophysics, right, where we are able to sort of compare, “Does this planet have a magnetic field? How does it interact with that magnetic field?” Like Ryan was saying, Mars has really weak and sort of sporadic magnetic fields, so it’s not a good bubble protecting it. And there are consequences of that.

Mercury’s completely different. Moon has absolutely no environment. We are planning to go back there, so we have to think about what the solar radiation will do.

Host: Right. Absolutely.

Lika Guhathakurta: Now if you take this knowledge, this complex sort of understanding of the physics of understanding a star as a star, understanding a planet as a planet, now I’m taking you to the exoworld.

Host: Outside our solar system, yeah.

Lika Guhathakurta:And then you kind of couple them together to see what they produce. So when you ask the question of habitability, I would say habitability is not just the zone as we are often used to saying. The Goldilocks zone –

Host: The Goldilocks zone.

Lika Guhathakurta: – which only specifies kind of its distance from the parent star.

Host: So that’s a zone where a planet might have water, could conceivably have liquid water, right?

Lika Guhathakurta: That’s right, right, but that’s not enough. You have to have a right kind of interaction between the planetary atmosphere and the star that controls it. So you could have water, atmosphere could be ripped off by storms so strong, and that’s what we are finding out. So there are many conditions that have to be right to define what habitability is. And that’s kind of how we are extending heliophysics into the exoplanet, exostellar environment.

Host: How exciting. Is that stuff you work on, Ryan?

Ryan McGranaghan:I haven’t done much exoplanet space weather research, but I know that’s a budding field of research right now. It’s going to become even more important as we start to identify more and more of these planets orbiting around their sun in this habitable zone. So taking the diverse interactions that we observe here in our own solar system and extrapolating those and looking at what the conditions are in the solar systems that we observe is very exciting. And I think it’s a really good area for heliophysics to expand in.

Lika Guhathakurta: A lot of our models, models that the community have developed, are already being re-tooled for the exoplanet world.

Host: I see. So does this mean that you know how our Sun behaves, you know that the Earth is at this distance so it receives this much radiation and other factors and analyses like that, so you can look at a star out there and say, “It’s this big. I know it’s probably really seen this amount of radiation. And look, I found a planet at X distance away.” Is that the kind of comparison?

Lika Guhathakurta: Yes. So believe it or not, we have models kind of showing that. I told you about the “Living with a Star” program, right? So really this is what scientists will do. Someone a couple of years ago came up with this small program called, “Living with a Red Dwarf,” red dwarf star essentially. And red dwarf stars are very different from the Sun because of its convective zone and larger star spots. So it produces bigger, more lethal star storms. And then you put a planet in the habitable zone and ask the question, “What kind of interaction would this planet have?” And you can see that these are model simulations. You can see that such a planet would have its atmosphere ripped by the storms produced by the star.

So there’s just room for a lot of imagination and trying out different kinds of simulations and models to figure out what are those pre-conditions for habitability.

Ryan McGranaghan:That’s right. And I was just going to add that our understanding of the exoplanetary systems are kind of data-starved at the moment. We have very limited information and our ability to study them. But as our space technology gets much more sophisticated with new missions, even ones that are coming up like the James Webb Space Telescope, we’re going to know much more about these systems. And that’s going to inform our development of these space weather models in exoplanetary systems to the point where they can really start to tell us about the habitability of these planets and just the interactions in general that we’re observing.

Host: Yeah, and we’ve been talking about habitability. But can we say that that aids us in our search for life beyond Earth?

Lika Guhathakurta: It’s a good question. We are the only sort of prototype of life. And we know what our planet offers. I often ask that question. Is a magnetosphere kind of critical need to have sustained planetary environment and a necessity for conditions of life to emerge?

Host: To have a magnetic field that protects the planet?

Ryan McGranaghan:Yeah.

Lika Guhathakurta: Exactly. But that kind of presupposes that I can only imagine life of our kind, and there could be so many other things. I just don’t know. So what can I say?

Host: Right. We don’t know. But I suppose it would be reasonable if we’re starting to look for life as we know it, you would want to find a planet that was not overly blasted with radiation from its star.

Lika Guhathakurta: Right. Just like we look for water, right?

Host: Right.

Lika Guhathakurta: Because we know water is a precondition. Again, it’s the kind of life we are.

Host: Yeah, it’s a starting point, right?

Lika Guhathakurta: Yes it is. Yeah.

Host: This is so interesting. So we’ve heard a lot about the advantages that all of this data will bring to the field of heliophysics. But what is it going to take to be able to use all this data? Are there challenges you guys need to overcome first?

Ryan McGranaghan:Absolutely. I think it’s really important to note that in the field of space science, people are feeling increasingly ill-equipped to utilize these new techniques of statistical learning and machine learning effectively and to effectively utilize the vast amounts of data. And so I think it’s really important to also realize that we need to create programs that train space scientists and engineers in these new techniques and also promote interdisciplinary collaboration so that computer scientists and space scientists and many different fields are working together to bring all this knowledge into one place.

Lika Guhathakurta: And I would say that NASA Frontier Development Lab is really taking those first baby steps by actually bringing the agile minds of young researchers to kind of do that, even as we bring senior mentors to guide them.

Host: That’s so exciting. It sounds like you guys are in the right place at the right time to make things happen.

Lika Guhathakurta: It’s been fun.

Host: Yeah, it sounds like it. It’s like we said at the beginning – nobody works alone anymore, right? It’s across disciplines. It’s got to come together, and there’s so much to learn. It’s exciting. Well, thank you both for joining us. I learned so much today. Really interesting.

Ryan McGranaghan:Thank you very much. It was wonderful to be here.

Lika Guhathakurta: Thank you.

Host: You’ve been listening to the NASA in Silicon Valley Podcast. If you have any questions, on Twitter, we’re @NASAAmes and we’re using #NASASiliconValley. Remember we are a NASA podcast, but we aren’t the only NASA podcast, so don’t forget to check out our friends at “Houston We Have a Podcast” and there’s also “Gravity Assist” and “This Week at NASA.” And if you’re a music fan, don’t forget to check out “Third Rock Radio.” The best way to capture all of the content is to subscribe to our omnibus RSS feed called “NASACasts” or visit the NASA app on iOS, Android or anywhere you find your apps.